Maybe the most impressive thing about the Afghan Whigs' new album, "Do to the Beast" (Sub Pop), the band's first in 16 years, is how it effortlessly manages to bridge old and new.
There's a moment in the stunning "Lost in the Woods," which starts out piano-driven and more similar to front man Greg Dulli's more recent work in the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins, when John Curley's bass kicks in and the indie-rock guitars arrive and it's like spotting an old friend in a crowd. The memories come flooding back instantly.
Dulli and Curley are careful not to have too many of those moments on "Do to the Beast." Neither would be satisfied with some sort of nostalgia trip to bring them back together. This is a decidedly forward-looking album -- from the way a club beat drops in at the saddest point of "Can Rova," thumping away as Dulli declares, "You don't need me," to the industrial-tinged drums that drive "Matamoros" into Nine Inch Nails territory.
The journey begins with "Parked Outside," a grinding rocker with layers of guitars forcing Dulli to sound desperate as he sings of his obsessed love, and closes with the galloping "These Sticks," which works through all sorts of dramatics to end up a haunting revenge fantasy.
Considering everything Dulli has learned from his other projects, it's no wonder "Do to the Beast" makes the Afghan Whigs sound masterful as well as raucous. It's also no wonder it will be one of the best albums of the year.
"Do to the Beast"
THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE The long-awaited return of the alt-rock heroes surpasses all expectations.